Alleged $15m Theft: Court Strikes out Patience Jonathan’s Suit against SERAP Awards N25,000 cost

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Davidson Iriekpen
Justice C.M.A Olatoregun of the Federal High Court in Lagos has struck out the suit initiated by former First Lady, Mrs. Patience Jonathan, alongside her group, Union of Niger Delta Youth Organisation for Equity, Justice and Good Governance, against a Lagos-based civil society group, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP).

The judge arrived at the decision sequel to an oral application by counsel to the former first lady that the plaintiffs are no longer interested in pursuing the matter.
Responding, SERAP through its lawyer, Timothy Adewale, said: This case should never have been brought against SERAP in the first place.

“The case has been a complete waste of our time. While we do not object to the request by the plaintiffs’ lawyers to withdraw the case, we ask the court for N500,000 as cost against Mrs Jonathan and her group.

In her ruling, Justice Olatoregun did not only throw out the case, she equally awarded cost to the tune of N25,000 against the plaintiffs.
Mrs. Jonathan and her group had accused SERAP in their suit numbered: FHC/L/CS/1349/2016, and dated October 6, 2016, of using online, print and electronic media to publish unfounded and malicious allegations that she stole $15million and ought to be prosecuted.

But in its preliminary objection to the accusation, dated October 27, 2016, the human rights group had urged the judge to dismiss her suit with substantial cost.
When came up for hearing, the counsel who represented SERAP, Babatunde Ogala, argued that “Patience Jonathans claims cannot be maintained because they are brought on her behalf by a group that is unknown to law.

“Mrs. Jonathans group is not a registered organisation envisaged by law. This very point calls into question the legal capacity to file this suit against SERAP, and the jurisdiction of the court to entertain her suit.
The Union of Niger Delta Youth Organisation for Equity, Justice and Good Governance suing for themselves and on behalf of the former president’s wife, had sued SERAP on October 6, 2016 before the court.

In the said suit, the group prayed the judge to issue “an order of interim injunction restraining SERAP from taking any further steps in further vilification, condemnation and conviction of the former first lady in all public media and in the use of the judicial process for that purpose by the extremely publicised pursuit of any application for the coercion of the Attorney General of the Federation to prosecute the plaintiff/applicant for owning legitimate private property, pending the hearing and determination of the originating summons.

The suit added that the campaign by SERAP was in breach of Mrs. Jonathan’s right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty under Section 36(5) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
“The action by SERAP seeks to coerce the Attorney General of the Federation to embark on a breach of the same right when the Attorney General is in a better position than SERAP and the court to know whether or not there is any evidence of wrongdoing by Mrs. Jonathan.

“SERAPs action is blatant misuse of the processes of this court. SERAP therefore no longer deserves to continue as an incorporated entity and ought to be dissolved.
“It is just and equitable to dissolve SERAP in the circumstances of this case. Damages will not be adequate compensation for the irreparable damage Mrs. Jonathan will suffer if the application is not granted.

The group had claimed that the running battle between the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and Mrs. Jonathan in respect of the $15million was uncalled, saying that she legitimately earned funds which were deposited in accounts opened in the names of certain companies by one of her husbands aides.

“The funds in question were legitimate gifts from her friends and well-wishers over the last 15 years which she had been saving in order to utilise to upgrade family businesses and concerns which had been somewhat dormant by reason of the long period of her husband service as a public officer in Nigeria.

“The gifts were given in small contributions by several persons some of whom she cannot even now recall over this period of 15 years sometimes in as small a gift as N250,000.
“In order to preserve the value of these funds which she did not require for any purpose at the time she changed them into foreign exchange and kept them as cash for a long period in her home safe in Port Harcourt and Abuja.

“It was when the family home in Otuoke was burnt down by hoodlums under the instigation of political adversaries in 2010 that she began to think about banking these gifts which had now grown to large sums in US dollars,” it said.